“American Crime Story” is a new series on the FX network, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, of “Nip/Tuck” fame. The series premieres on February 2, and for its inaugural season, it revisits the 1994 murder trial of former football player O.J. Simpson, who was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
It’s hard to believe that more than 20 years have passed since the crime, the media circus and the acquittal, but here we are. And though the world is very different today, a full series about a particular crime fits perfectly into this moment in history, when so many Americans are compulsively binge-watching such true crime series as Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” and HBO’s “The Jinx.”
At the time, Simpson’s trial was described as “The Trial of the Century,” and maybe it was hyperbole. But today, there’s no denying that it set the stage for the trial-as-reality-show state of affairs that currently exists. The Simpson trial set the stage for the Casey Anthony trial, the Oscar Pistorius trial, and any other recent case that played out in public (and on television) almost as much as it played out in the courtroom.
What else has changed? In 2008, O.J. Simpson was found guilty of 12 charges, including armed robbery and kidnapping, in relation to an incident involving sports memorabilia, and given a maximum sentence of 33 years in prison. His children with Nicole Brown Simpson, Sydney and Justin, are both now pushing 30 and have kept such a low profile in the past two decades that the mere fact of them being photographed made headlines in 2014.
But Fred Goldman, father of victim Ron Goldman, appeared on the “Today” show with his daughter Kim, and said that the passage of 20 years had done nothing to dull the pain of losing his son.
“It’s like yesterday,” he said. “The loss is exactly the same. Nothing has changed.”
How have the lives and careers changed for the other major figures involved in the O.J. Simpson trial, more than 20 years later?
Robert Shapiro was a member of Simpson’s “Dream Team” of defense attorneys. He had represented athletes before, including former baseball player Darryl Strawberry, but Simpson remains his best-known client and highest-profile case.
Shapiro is one of the co-founders of LegalZoom, an online tech resource for people seeking solutions to such routine legal matters as pre-nuptial agreements, trademark registrations and much more. He also co-founded ShoeDazzle, an online fashion subscription service, with Kim Kardashian.
Like Shapiro, Robert Kardashian was one of Simpson’s defense attorneys. He was also a personal friend. The day after the murders, he was seen carrying a Louis Vuitton bag from the retired football player’s home, opening himself up to speculation that he had removed the murder weapon from the crime scene. In a 1996 interview with ABC News, he admitted to doubts about Simpson’s innocence.
“The blood evidence is the biggest thorn in my side,” he said. “That causes me the greatest problems.”
Kardashian died of esophageal cancer at the age of 59, in 2003. However, he lives on through his children, Kim, Khloé, Kourtney and Rob, all of whom currently have successful careers in entertainment and fashion, as some may have noticed.
Mark Fuhrman was a Los Angeles Police Department detective who investigated the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. He said that he had found one bloody glove at the murder scene and the other at O.J. Simpson’s house.
Defense attorneys alleged that he planted the second glove in a racially motivated attempt to frame the athlete, and asked if he had used racial epithets in the past. Fuhrman denied doing so, only to be confronted with audiotaped evidence of him doing exactly that, over and over again. He later entered a plea of no contest to a felony perjury charge in a deal that spared him a jail term. He was given three years’ probation and a $200 fine.
Fuhrman has since written numerous books about crime, including The Murder Business: How the Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment and Subverts Justice and Silent Witness: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo’s Death. He also appears regularly on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program.
F. Lee Bailey
F. Lee Bailey was the Simpson defense attorney who cross-examined Mark Fuhrman. He clearly enjoyed it, too, saying in a press conference, “Any lawyer in his right mind who would not be looking forward to cross-examining Mark Fuhrman is an idiot.”
In 2001, Bailey was disbarred by the state of Florida when he took 600,000 shares of stock owned by a former client, worth nearly $6 million, as payment for his services. Federal prosecutors said that the stock was meant for seizure, and Bailey’s initial refusal to relinquish it cost him six weeks in prison. In 2003, he was disbarred by the state of Massachusetts in connection with the case. In 2014, the Maine Supreme Court rejected Bailey’s bid to practice law in the state.
Marcia Clark was head prosecutor in the Simpson trial. She had worked on celebrity cases before; she prosecuted Robert John Bardo for the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. But it’s the Simpson case for which she is remembered.
After the acquittal, Clark resigned from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office and signed a book deal worth over $4 million. Since then she has provided coverage of famous trials on the Headline News network and CNN, and today she serves as a columnist for The Daily Beast.
Christopher Darden was a prosecutor along with Marcia Clark. In a 2015 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he said that he took the acquittal pretty hard. “I was devastated and decimated by the trial,” he said.
Darden didn’t let the experience derail him. Today he still practices law, although he’s not a prosecutor any more — he’s now a criminal defense attorney.
Brian “Kato” Kaelin was a struggling actor who lived in a guesthouse on Simpson’s property, and was there the night of the murders. He testified that Simpson was visibly upset in the time before the murder, and said that he heard a thump on the wall of Simpson’s home. But prosecutor Marcia Clark didn’t like his demeanor on the stand and had him declared a hostile witness.
Kaelin received plenty of media attention after the trial, but most of it cast him as a slacker and parasite. Most of his media appearances have been on reality television and game shows, and in 2014 he wrote about the experience in a Los Angeles Times essay.
“One day I was a struggling actor, and the next day, the media flexed their muscle and I became a celebrity, a pariah, the world’s most famous house guest, a traitor, a dummy, a liar, a freeloader and even an assassin’s target,” he wrote. “Never has a man done so little to be recognized by so many.”
Kaelin has kept busy since the trial with a variety of activities. He launched his own clothing line, Slacker Wear, which sells hoodie robes, lounge pants and other garments for those who absolutely, positively will not get off the couch for any reason, ever. But don’t think that means he’s given up on his original dream of acting.
“I did a goofy fake-court show called ‘Eye for an Eye,'” he told Details magazine. “But I turned down ‘Murder She Wrote’ because my rep said to stay away from murder.”
Faye Resnick was a friend of Nicole Brown Simpson and had struggled with cocaine addiction. Nicole and other friends staged an intervention for Resnick that culminated in her being sent to Exodus Recovery Center in Marina Del Rey, and three days later, the murders took place. Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran implied at the trial that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman might have been executed by drug dealers to whom Resnick owed money.
Resnick wrote two books about the murders and the trial, 1994’s Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted and 1996’s Shattered: In the Eye of the Storm. Resnick posed for Playboy magazine in 1997, and has had recurring appearances on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” She also appeared on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” in April.
Johnnie Cochran was part of the Simpson defense team, and he provided the trial with its most memorable rhyming couplet — “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The bloody glove didn’t fit, and the rest is history.
Cochran died in 2005 at the age of 67 of an inoperable brain tumor, but he had made a lasting impression, quantifiable in popular culture. On the sitcom “Seinfeld,” he was lampooned by a recurring lawyer character known as “Jackie Chiles,” and he was also depicted on the cartoon “South Park,” using the “Chewbacca defense” in a closing argument.
“If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito presided over the Simpson trial and became one of its most public faces. He was certainly one of the most lampooned, as evidenced by a recurring “Tonight Show” gag involving a dance troupe called “The Dancing Itos,” clad in glasses, beards and judicial robes.
Ito retired in 2015 and has participated in only a handful of interviews ever since. However, according to longtime friend and former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert Philibosian, Ito is very happy keeping his profile low. “He’s having a wonderful retirement,” Philibosian told NBC News in October.
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.